In many towns and cities, the growth of online shopping and the popularity of out-of-town retail outlets has changed the face of our high streets over recent years. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that the rise of digital banking is having an impact on the number of bank branches and the availability of financial services in our communities.

With more than 5,000 bank branches across the UK closing since 2015, people who don’t have access to digital banking, or those who prefer to manage their money in person might well worry about the future of the once-familiar bank branch.

However, one building society is gaining attention in the region by bucking the national trend of branch closures and for coming up with new ways to restore access to financial services in its communities.

Newcastle Building Society has 31 branches across the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria – a number which has actually grown over recent years – and despite the number of branch closures by others around the UK, says its commitment to face-to-face financial services is only getting stronger.

Michael Conville, chief customer officer at Newcastle Building Society said: “Customers tell us again and again that they’re worried about the future of branches. As an organisation owned by our members we’re constantly thinking about how to better serve our communities and we’re absolutely committed to investing in our branches and growing access to local financial services.

“Branches are expensive to run, but instead of admitting defeat and pulling down the shutters, we’re taking a fresh approach, working with local people and finding new ways to make branches work for our communities. That includes rethinking what the branch might look like and showing what can be achieved when you’ve got customers’ best interests at heart.”

One of the ways Newcastle Building Society has been able to open more branches when others around them close is through its innovative community partnership branch. Since 2016 the Society has opened in four new locations – Yarm, Hawes, Wooler, and Knaresborough, each time working with local partners to open a new branch in a space shared with other local services. In Knaresborough, the Society’s branch sits inside the local library, taking up a fraction of the space of a traditional branch but offering all the same services and making it easy for people checking out the latest books to check out the latest savings interest rates.

The Society is also investing in its presence in Newcastle city centre, with plans to open a brand new flagship community branch at Monument in summer 2024.

Michael added: “There’s a real risk of financial exclusion in places where banks have left town. Often that impacts the most vulnerable and makes people more reliant on others to help manage their money. The community partnership branch works when there is a real need for financial services and a clear desire from local people and leaders to work together to bring those essential services back to the high street. It’s been a success for us in four places already and we’re working on more community branches all the time.”

As well as its commitment to branches, Newcastle Building Society is sticking with some of the more traditional ways of keeping up to date with your savings, such as the savings passbook, which many banks and building societies are phasing out.

But the Society is also investing in the latest technology to hand the power of choice to its customers and help restore access to cash and basic banking services in places where the banks have left. In its Knaresborough and Gosforth branches, a UK-first pilot of a multi-bank kiosk allows customers of any bank to withdraw and deposit cash from their current account – whoever they bank with – under the Society’s roof, free of charge without the need to be a customer of the society. For small businesses in particular, it means less time spent travelling to their nearest bank and more time running their business.

Michael concluded: “Technology is probably the biggest driver of change in financial services and by working with OneBanx and their multi-bank kiosk, we’re helping to restore basic banking services which are especially important for small businesses and the wider health of the high street economy. We’re also investing in our digital offering, including our online savings portal and app, because we believe customers deserve the best of both worlds – the convenience of online services and the reassurance and comfort that only comes from a friendly conversation on your local high street.”

To find out more about what Newcastle Building Society can do for you, pop into your local branch at 1-2 Beaumont Street or visit the branch page here.